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Drone capability soaring to new heights – the newsmakers

written by Malavika Santhebennur | May 31, 2022

Google Wing's new quieter drones, which were rolled out in 2021
Google Wing’s new quieter drones, which were rolled out in 2021

Australian Aviation is eagerly gearing up to host its inaugural Australian Aviation Awards later this year. One of its key objectives is to reward aviation businesses and individuals for their innovation, research, and development in unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and drone capabilities.

Out of the 24 individual and company categories on offer in our first awards program – which will culminate in a gala dinner in Sydney on Thursday, 25 August 2022 – are these two categories: Remotely Piloted Aircraft Business of the Year and Remotely Piloted Aircraft Professional of the Year.

The first award recognises the remotely piloted aircraft business that has most effectively capitalised on market opportunities and supported the strengthening of Australia’s UAS and drone capabilities.

The second award is for an operator of remotely piloted aircrafts who has delivered outstanding work for their organisation or institution while supporting the strengthening and advancement of Australia’s aviation and UAS industry.

It is open to individuals employed in an Australian business, organisation or institution (or a division of a global business that is registered to trade in Australia) that has a focus on drone training, remote operations or services.

Nominations and submissions will close on 30 June 2022.

Businesses have been using remotely piloted aircraft to conduct a range of tasks in different fields including surveillance, freight, real estate, aeromedical, parapublic aviation, planning, training, operations, agriculture, mining, construction, entertainment, defence, special mission, and even community services.

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One of the key criteria of the awards is for entrants working in these businesses to demonstrate how they have contributed to the wider innovation, growth, or financial performance of their particular department, company, or program, as well as their vision for remote operations in the future.

Therefore, it is only fitting for Australian Aviation to provide an overview of those who have made headlines in the recent past (including during the COVID-19 crisis) and shaped Australia’s burgeoning drone industry.

We hope it will inspire other professionals and businesses to enter the awards and receive the recognition they deserve for their achievements and innovations.

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Aerologix secures over $4 million in funding

The Sydney-based start-up company has been hailed as the “Uber for drones”, as its platform connects drone pilots directly with people or clients seeking aerial imagery and data, while sourcing and providing technology to assist with pilots’ workflow.

Founded in 2019 by former airline pilot Tom Caska and his business partner and technology consultant Rakesh Routhu, the company recently announced that it expanded its network of Australian drone pilots from 500 to over 10,000 in the last 12 months alone.

In May, Aerologix secured $4.2 million in its latest capital funding round, which will see it expand its platform internationally. The funding round was led by Australian investment manager Ellerston Capital and Lindsay Phillips’ Nightingale Partners, which also contributed to the company’s earlier pre-seed funding round.

The latest round of funding will allow it to invest in additional research and development, grow its commercial team, and support the company’s global expansion, Caska said.

Since the pandemic struck, the company has advocated for former airline pilots that were stood down or made redundant from their roles to retrain as drone pilots.

The company offers an integrated app approved by the Civil Aviation and Safety Authority (CASA) to drone pilots across both Apple and Android platforms.

Local drone firm wins approval to operate five drones per one pilot

Melbourne-based drone logistics company Swoop Aero has been making headlines since it was founded in 2017, including by being the first company in the world to remotely pilot commercially used drones in another country.

The company – which builds and operates drones to transport medical supplies – flew PPE in Malawi during the COVID-19 pandemic, while piloting the aircraft from Australia.

Swoop Aero has also enabled a series of other pioneering projects during the pandemic, including transporting vaccine for a baby on a small Pacific Island in conjunction with UNICEF.

The aircraft flew 40 kilometres across rugged mountains in Vanuatu that would otherwise have taken hours to cross by road.

Swoop Aero recently announced it will soon begin flying up to five drones per pilot after it received approvals from CASA to operate beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) flights from its remote operations centre (ROC).

The company will be able to scale up in due course using the same systems to allow one pilot to oversee up to 30 remotely piloted drones at once, across three continents.

It said its ROC will allow it to “operate like an international airliner” by “centralising resources in one facility”.

It is built upon Amazon Web Services (AWS) systems to improve autonomy and accuracy.

The latest development has followed the company receiving BVLOS approval last year to deliver medical equipment and supplies via drone into regional Queensland, which it soon anticipates will extend to greater Queensland and Victoria.

In June 2020, Swoop Aero secured an eight-figure sum from an investment round, which it will use to establish a presence in New Zealand and certify its aviation systems for more operations.

Google drone delivery service expands

It has been a fruitful year for Google Wing drones, which has expanded its service offerings and has plans to expand geographically.

The drone delivery service first launched in Canberra in 2019 and currently allows for the delivery of packages that weigh less than 1.5 kilograms from a variety of retailers who sell household and perishable goods, including coffee and sandwiches.

The business, a subsidiary of Google owner Alphabet, first launched in 2012, and has conducted more than 100,000 flights worldwide.

Once a customer submits an order via the app, the drone flies to pick up the package at the designated delivery centre, before soaring to a cruise height of 45 metres and flying to the destination. Once it reaches, it hovers and lowers the package to the ground, automatically unclipping the parcel without assistance from the customer.

Australian Aviation reported in September 2020 that the delivery service is set to expand to new locations in Australia after successful trials in Canberra and Logan, Queensland.

Orders surged by 500 per cent during the COVID-19 crisis as customers sought to obtain goods in a contactless way, according to the business’ head of policy and government affairs, Margaret Nagle.

In April, it was revealed Google Wing drones are now delivering supplies to tradies on worksites in Logan, Queensland.

According to the business’ head of government relations, Jesse Suskin, they are not delivering to homes, but to the people who are building the homes.

“We’re delivering their tools and hardware when they run out of something or their food during lunch. We didn’t originally think we’d be moving hammers and screws with drones!” Suskin said.

“We had a customer reach out who runs a landscaping business, and they constantly ran out of the Whipper Snapper line. So, we stock that now.”

In a major development in October 2021, Wing drones began picking up packages from the roof of a Logan shopping mall to deliver to customers in the area.

Previously, retailers had to co-locate in the tech giant’s distribution centres rather than being able to work from their own stores.

NSW replaces helicopters with drones to detect sharks

In a country where shark attacks frequently reach the headlines, any development that will enable us to identify the sharks easily is welcome news.

And so it was that in July 2020, the NSW government in conjunction with Surf Life Saving NSW announced that it is set to deploy a new generation of shark-monitoring drones that are so advanced, they can even identify the creature’s size and species.

The announcement formed a part of an $8 million strategy to deploy 80 drones across 34 beaches and a gradual phasing out of the use of helicopters on the north and south coast of NSW.

This measure followed a $16 million trial of shark mitigation strategies that began in 2016 after a significant surge in shark attacks on the north coast.

In March 2022, the NSW government announced ongoing funding of almost $86 million to continue its shark mitigation strategies in 2026, which includes additional funding to Surf Life Saving NSW to continue and expand aerial surveillance using drones across the state’s coastline.

It also announced an immediate additional response package of $4.4 million for a range of immediate mitigation methods, including long-range drone trials in partnership with Surf Life Saving NSW.

Show us what you’re made of

It is encouraging to witness the amount of innovation and development of new technologies in the remotely piloted aircraft sector, and the level of continued investment in start-up companies to support their research, development, and continued financial growth.

We are now urging you to tell us your story about how your business has most effectively capitalised on market opportunities and supported the strengthening of Australia’s UAS and drone capabilities by entering the 2022 Australian Aviation Awards.

Operators of remotely piloted aircraft are also encouraged to tell us about the outstanding work you have delivered for your organisation or institution while supporting the strengthening and advancement of Australia’s aviation and UAS industry.

All Australian-based remotely piloted aircraft operators working in the industry are encouraged to participate.

To enter the awards, visit the website below to register, download the category criteria, follow the criteria and submit an entry. Finally, simply save and confirm your submission.

The awards are peer-reviewed and judged by a respected and trusted panel.

The gala event will be held in person on Thursday, 25 August 2022 at 7pm at Australian Turf Club, Royal Randwick Racecourse, Sydney where professionals can network with their peers and showcase their successes.

Nominations and submissions will close on Thursday, 30 June 2022.

Click here to submit your entry or nominate a colleague.

For more information about the awards, including all of the categories, click here.

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